Blóðmör – “Líkþorn” (2019)

I first connected with Haukur Valdimarsson on Facebook back in 2017.  The thing that an Icelandic teenager and a guy from Seattle on a collision course with turning 50 had in common was our mutual love for the metal band HAM. (♠)  We are HAM!  We’ve stayed in touch both via Facebook and on Discogs over the last few years, generally to commiserate about Icelandic metal and punk, particularly favorites like HAM and Skálmöld.

Then out of the blue a few months back I see Haukur tagged in an article about the 2019 winners of Músíktilraunir, a.k.a. Icelandic Music Experiments, a.k.a. Iceland’s Battle of the Bands.  Could this be the same Haukur?  Did I even know he played guitar?  It was, and he does, and his metal band Blóðmör took home this year’s top prize.  Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, Haukur was also recognized as the event’s top guitarist.  Damn!  I mean sure, if there was an award for the most valuable Microsoft-Excel-user-guy at my company I’d have an outside shot of winning (♣), but to be named the best young axe-wielder in an entire country?  That’s pretty great.

Blóðmör (named after Icelandic blood sausage) just put out a five-song digital EP on Bandcamp (HERE) back in June, and I have to say it’s some damn good stuff.  I strongly encourage you to head over there, download it, and kick the kids a few bucks – yes, they’re offering it up for free, but I’d be willing to bet any cash they get will be spent on gear, studio time, and other music related stuff, so help ’em out.

I of course took full advantage of my relationship with Haukur and asked if he’d do an interview for Life in the Vinyl Lane, and he readily agreed.

Haurkur, you and I originally connected due to our mutual love of HAM. What metal bands drove your passion for the genre?

My biggest inspirations for writing songs for Blóðmör have been all kinds of bands. Mostly Icelandic but also bands from other countries. HAM has obviously had a massive impact. Then I would have to say the Megadeth has affected me a lot as well. Icelandic punk bands from the 80’s have had an impact on my writing. That would be bands like Purrkur Pillnikk, Fræbbblarnir and Þeyr.

How did Blóðmör come together as a band?

Blóðmör started right after another band I was in called it quits. This was in the fall of 2016. We just wanted to make punk music but we struggled a lot and quit after just a few months. Then in 2018 we got a new drummer and started playing again. Soon we played our first concert and have been in the scene since.

Blóðmör recently won Músíktilraunir, and you were recognized as the best guitarist.  What was that experience like, both preparing for it and ultimately winning the competition?

We prepared for Músíktilraunir by rehearsing the songs we were going to play over and over.  Even when we knew them 100% we just pushed them even more until they sounded perfect. When we made it to the finals we were so happy but after winning the whole competition we were left speechless. It was an amazing experience.

Your new five-song EP Líkþorn came out in June. How was the experience of recording that album?

Recordings of our EP started in October last year. We went to the studio very inexperienced and basically just didn’t know anything what we were doing. It took a few months to finish the recording, they were over in February this year. After that our friend Biggi from Alchemia started mixing the album and after that Oculus mastered it. Then on June 14. it finally got released.

How were you able to get Óttarr Proppé to join the band on “Frumskógurinn”?  How was it working with one of your idols?

I’ve known Óttarr for some time now for a few reasons. So it was easy for me to contact him. He was very open for the idea so he came. It was an amazing experience having him in the studio with us. When I heard him sing to our song for the first time I just couldn’t stop smiling.

What’s next for Blóðmör?

Our next step would be writing enough new material to record a full length album. We have almost 3 new songs ready at the moment, 2 of which we play live already. But I think we will not go to the studio again until we have at least 8-10 songs ready. We will take as much time we will need. I think it’s better to wait rather than doing this in a hurry.

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blodmorI was intrigued when Haurkur mentioned Purrkur Pillnikk and Fræbbblarnir as influences, because even at first glance there’s more than a bit at punk at play with Blóðmör – after all, the longest song on Líkþorn clocks in at a very un-metal-like 3:04, definitely a departure from the ambitious lengths of so many metal tracks these days.  Stylistically there are punk elements as well, though make no mistake – this is guitar-driven metal through-and-through.  Right from the opening of the title track “Líkþorn” we’re treated to driving riffs, followed by growled vocals, then right into a classic metal instrumental interlude before reversing course and taking us to the finish line in less time than it takes to make a cup of coffee.  But lest you be afraid the guys are going to stay in this zone for the next 12 minutes, au contraire mon frère, because “Klósettið” is a pure rocker, its vocals cadenced in pop punk fashion and slightly at odds with the brief metallic solo burst in the song’s second half.  “Skuggalegir Menn” takes us in a doom direction, the vocals going lower and more primal, the rhythm section pulsating with plodding weight, a HAM-esque crusher that still maintains a dose of youthful enthusiasm.

The first time I heard “Frumskógurinn” I stopped dead in my tracks and said out loud to no one in particular (I was home alone at the time), “wait, that’s Óttarr Proppé“, the one and only vocalist for HAM and Dr. Spock!  And I have to say he fits perfectly into this track, probably the most punk jam on Líkþorn, one reminiscent of some of the finest first wave Scandinavian punk bands.  Óttarr takes the middle of the song in a raspy, accusatory direction before the guys bring it back home perfectly, picking up right where they left off before his vocal interlude.  The album closes with “Barnaníðingur”, another rocker characterized by a driving rhythm, though one that picks up speed along the way like a car with no breaks heading down a hill, going faster and faster until the collision at the end that brings the whole thing to a sudden and jarring stop.

I suspect that we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from Blóðmör in the coming years, and hopefully they’ll land a few shows during Airwaves this year so that I can check them out live.

(♠) And the English language, because mercifully for me Haukur’s English is probably better than mine.

(♣) OK, maybe I’d be in the top three… or maybe the top five… but spreadsheets are cool, dammit!

Skepna – “Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku” (2019)

skepnadagarSkepna got a lot of people excited with their rocking debut in 2013 and garnered a lot of solid press for their live performances at Airwaves and Eistnaflug, but then seem to have gone radio silent for a bit.  But all good things to those who wait, and last month the trio treated us to a new album, the hard-driving Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku.  Skepna are back, and they’re as good as they ever were, if not maybe even a bit better.

All three Skepna members have impressive rock credentials.  Bassist Hördur Ingi Stefànsson played with one of my all-time favorite Icelandic rock outfits Brain Police.  Drummer Björn Stefánsson was part of the powerhouse Mínus.  And Hallur Ingólfsson?  Oh, he just played in a couple of OK bands like XIII and, you know, HAM.  No biggie.  Just a handful of the best hard rocking bands to ever come out of Iceland.  I figure I probably have something like 15 albums on my shelves that these guys have played on over the years.

Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku doesn’t try to do anything fancy.  It just rocks your face off.  How can three guys get such a full sound (check out “Rautt”)?  “Biturt Blóð” is the most intriguing song to my ears, one that captures the strengths of the members’ respective former bands – the heavy psych of Brain Policy, the edginess of Mínus, a dose of HAM doomishness, and the polish of XIII all compressed into a diamond-hard track of riffs.  My other favorite is “Kjarval”, a sonic jackhammer, relentless with a tricky bass line adding character to the track and giving the whirlwind of the sonics something to circle.  Everyone gets their space to explore and shine, but I want to give an extra shout-out to Stefànsson’s bass work.  He’s not confined to keeping pace with the drums but instead given room to roam, and he takes full advantage.  Often it’s difficult to pick out the bass on a hard rock record, but that’s not the case on Dagar Heiftar Og Heimsku – it’s always right where it needs to be, sometimes supporting, sometimes out front leading the way.

I’m not sure about the press run on the vinyl – mine is on red, and that’s about all I can tell you.  There’s a free download included on a sticker affixed to the bottom corner of the inner sleeve, so if you’re looking for a loose card inside you might miss it.  Definitely recommended.

Rass – “Andstaða” (2005)

rassBy 2005 it had been a solid 10 years since the metal band HAM had put out a studio album, the last of which was (at that time) 1995s Dauður Hestur.  A pair of live CDs hit the market in 2001, but for all intents and purposes it seemed clear that HAM was a thing of the past by the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. (♠)  So what are a bunch of rockers to do when their rock band is no more?  Well, make another rock band, of course.  Or, if you’re so inclined, an old-school punk band.  And that’s exactly what HAM veterans Arnar Geir Ómarsson, Flosi Þorgeirsson, and Óttarr Proppé did in 2005 – form a band called Rass (“Ass”), put out an album called Andstaða (“Opposition”), take pot-shots at the old families that rule the nation’s fishing industry with an iron fist, play a few shows, then disband.  Which is all pretty punk rock.

I only learned of Rass’ existence recently while doing some research for a blog on the new Dr. Spock album. Andstaða is quite difficult to find, even in Iceland, typically selling online in the $50+ range.  Fortunately for me I was putting together an order with my friends over at Lucky Records and they had a copy, so a few weeks ago it arrived at my door.  And I’ve been playing the hell out of it ever since.

There’s a certain something, a sonic undercurrent, that to my ears defines the early Icelandic punk sound.  I can’t put it into words, but much like Potter Stewart once famously said about obscenity, “I know it when I see it” (♣), or in this case hear it.  What’s interesting to me about Andstaða, however, is that it lacks this element.  In fact, Andstaða is about the closest thing to first generation UK punk that I’ve ever heard come out of Iceland, especially “Lífsflótti”.  Of course, there are still clearly HAM influences here, not to mention a dose of Dr. Spock on “Pönk Familie”, which makes sense given that vocalist Óttarr Proppé is in all three bands.

At 12 songs and 20 minutes, Rass get in and out quick.  And it’s just the right amount for me.  Allegedly there were only 500 copies pressed of Andstaða, so if you see one you better grab it – you might not get the chance again.

(♠)  And remained that way until their phenomenal come-back album Svik, Harmur Og Dauði in 2011.

(♣)  Potter was a justice on the United States Supreme Court when he wrote that infamous phrase in a concurring opinion for the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964.  The suit arose from a movie theatre being fined for showing the French film The Lovers, which local authorities deemed pornographic.  Potter’s full quote was “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description {of hardcore pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Iceland Airwaves 2017 – Day 4

It’s 10:30AM Sunday in Reykjavik, and I’m tired.  Like really, really tired.  When the cathedral bells of Hallkrimskirkja started going off like crazy I was afraid we’d slept until Noon.  Though on second thought that sounds like a pretty great idea.  Saturday feels like it was Day 4 of Airwaves… of Airwaves 2016 because it seems like so long ago.

We made two off-venue stops yesterday.  The first was to catch Lady Boy Records electronic band Panos from Komodo playing at a Salvation Army second-hand store.  We didn’t realize that these dudes are also the guitarist and bassist for Godchilla, who we saw on Friday. (♠)  Their lo-fi electronica set was both fun and funny, and their cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” done entirely off key was something to behold.  I felt a little bad for the old guy in the store who just wanted to buy a hat, but hey, whatever.  Later we rolled over to KEX Hostel with the intention of seeing the ambient black metal band GlerAkur, but truth be told their soundcheck, which featured FIVE guitarists, was simply too loud.  I know, I know… “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”  Fine.  I’m too old.  And I didn’t bring ear protection and would like to still be able to hear when I’m actually old.  You know, back when I was your age…

For dinner we made our annual stop at Shalimar for Pakistani food, then it was off to the Reykjavik Art Museum for the best, most stacked card of the night.  Six bands, five of which we know and four of which we’re big fans of.  We staked out a little corner nook in front of the soundboard area that put us in the heart of the action, about 50 feet from the stage in the long Art Museum room.

We basically stayed in that exact same spot for the next 6.5 hours.  First up was the female-fronted metal band Hórmónar (below).  Their lead singer’s voice was worse for wear after multiple shows during the festival, but she was a trooper and fought through it as the rest of the band compensated by turning the volume knobs to 11. (♣)  We saw them last year and they were one of the surprise new bands of the festival.  But a year later we experienced a much more confident group with a great stage presence, one that wasn’t just winging it but knew exactly what they wanted to do.

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That brought us to Auður and his hyper-sexualized brand of electronic R&B.  We saw `Auður last year and were impressed with his chutzpa when he introduced the crowd to his mother, telling us this was her first time seeing him perform live and they proceeding to sing a song that very explicitly told us EXACTLY what he wanted to do to a girl, with liberal use of the F word.  That being said, his music is excellent and he’s got a great voice.  Unfortunately we’re thinking there were some kind of technical problems because 10 minutes before his set was scheduled to end and out of the blue he went all Pete Townshend on his guitar.  It didn’t break the first time, which had to hurt his hands and arms like hell, but the second attempt blew it up pretty good.  He then stormed off stage, to the seeming surprise of his electronics guy who stood there for a good 15-20 seconds before slowly closing his laptop and walking off.  Fufanu followed, playing quite a bit of material off their 2017 album Sports.  The band was tight and continues to impress as they’ve matured.  There were some technical difficulties, but the upside from my perspective is that we got to hear the title track twice.  I’m wondering if similar technical problems didn’t contribute to the untimely demise of Auður’s guitar.  RIP Auður’s guitar; we hardly knew ye.

Then came the doom metal juggernaut that is HAM (below).  We are HAM!  This was the fourth time I’ve seen a full HAM set, and the fourth time they assimilated my being into he collective known as HAM.  We are HAM!  HAM brought it hard, with a few new tracks but also classics like “Dauð Hóra” and “Partíbær”.  The intensity of the pit grew over the course of the set as more and more horns were thrown and by the closing number the area in front of the stage more resembled a riot than a concert.  All another day in the life of one of Iceland’s first metal bands.  If HAM is playing live at Airwaves, I’ll always try to catch them at least once.

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After the HAM show my buddy turned to me and said, “I kind of wish we could fast forward past this next band and get to Gusgus”.  I understand the sentiment in that we were all really looking forward to a 90 minute Gusgus set, but I was intrigued by the fact that the next band was from Mali.  How did they end up on this card?  Well, I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that Songhoy Blues (below) reminded us why we spent all that money and flew all those miles to get to Reykjavik with their incredibly high energy and super positive vibe set of afro-funk-rock.  The crowd ate it up, and I for one will be ordering their new album Résistance when we return home.

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And that, my friends, brings us to Gusgus (below).  A stripped down version of Gusgus this time around, with only Biggi and Daniel on stage.  And they killed it for 90 minutes with a combination of somewhat recent material, most of it from 24/7 forward and including what I believe were some new numbers from the upcoming album.  It was a nearly non-stop river of music flowing over us, with the guys building and building the tension before finally giving us the release of the drop.  They were in top form, and while we were staggeringly tired when we walked out the door at 2AM I’m sure we’d have stayed another hour if they’d kept going.

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Last night at the Art Museum was one of the all-time great start-to-finish lineups we’ve ever seen at Airwaves.  It’ll take a few days or weeks to reflect to truly make that decision in my mind, as it’s too easy in the emotions of the moment to say “this is the most amazing moment ever”, forgetting that it’s not the first time you’ve felt this way.

There isn’t a lot of interest on the schedule tonight, but you never know what Airwaves has in store for you…

(♠) Which, to my sleep-deprived mind, seems like three years ago.

(♣) And they still weren’t even remotely as loud as GlerAkur.

HAM – “Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna” (2017)

Við erum HAM! (♠)

So far 2017 has been a banner year for new releases by bands I really like – Fufanu, Singapore Sling, Depeche Mode, Vök, and DIMMA all put out new albums, and none of them disappointed.  But maybe only a couple of times a year does one of your true favorites give you a new record.  You know the ones.  The bands that are go-tos on your iPod, the ones you can jam to over and over and over again and recommend to people even though you know they’ll never even make the effort to listen to them.  I’m looking forward to at least two such treats in the second half of the year, with both Legend and Gusgus announcing forthcoming material.  But before I get my hands and ears on those I just got a CD copy of the brand-spanking-new release by one of my all-time heavy metal loves. I speak, of course, of HAM.

We are HAM!

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How do I feel about HAM?  Well, I’ve covered their entire discography on Life in the Vinyl Lane, and I mean that quite literally.  I own all their albums and singles and comps, and I’ve seen them live four times.  I have a DVD documentary about them and even bought (and watched) the 1992 movie Sódóma Reykjavík (♣) because of it’s association with HAM.  I am HAM.

I’m always a bit leery of Google Translate.  It will generally get you in the right area, at least with respect to providing a literal translation; but often the nuances and true meaning are lost, especially when you’re talking about a language like Icelandic.  That being said, Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna is something along the lines of Songs About The Hell of Man, fitting HAM’s typical modus operandi when it comes to album and song titles that tend to skew towards darkness with just a hint of intentional absurdity.  Song titles encompass topics such as fire and lying and murder and shadows and West Berlin.  This is music about the darker side of life.

While Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna is HAM’s first output in six years, it’s not as if the band just recently wrote a bunch of new material.  Three of the new album’s ten songs were part of the band’s live set at KEX Hostel in November 2014 – “Brekka”, “Þú lýgur”, and “Morðingjar”.  I expected their only B side, “Tveir Dalir”, to make an appearance as well, but it didn’t, meaning the vinyl 7″ is still the only place to find that song on a physical release.  True to form HAM keeps their tracks tight, especially for a metal band – only one runs over four minutes, and that one (“Þú Lýgur”) is still under five.  There’s no self-indulgence here.  HAM just get in, punch you in the face and body a bunch of times, and get out.

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Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna opens with “Eldur” and a pretty straight forward guitar riff, at least it seems straight forward until Óttarr Proppé’s vocals kick in; I’m pretty sure he’s screaming at me from the depths of Hell and telling me to get off his lawn or something, because he sounds pissed.  That’s followed by “Þú Lýgur”, which gets us back to the sheer sonic relentlessness that has defined HAM’s sound on and off since their earliest days, characterized by driving music and the contrast of Sigurjón Kjartansson’s low gothic vocals and the high-pitched rasp of Óttarr Proppé (♥).  Songs like “Gamli Maðurinn Og Asninn” and “Þú Fórst Hvurt” harken back to the band’s less doomy Buffalo VirginDauður Hestur material, but do so in a way that feels less like HAM searching for a more mainstream sound and more like a more mature band simply doing what they feel like doing.  HAM save the best for last, though, closing out with “Brekka”, a near-perfect idealized version of their sound.

There’s an interesting story about the initial distribution of Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna.  As it was related to me, a small quantity of CDs were shipped to Reykjavik in advance of the actual release date so that the band would have them available to sell when they opened for Ramm­stein in May.  However, these CDs had the title of the album misspelled – “Mannanna” was spelled “Mannana”, and as a result the covers had to be scrapped and reprinted.  However… the copies with the incorrectly spelled cover shipped in for the show were sold, creating a variation.  It remains to be seen how the collector market will value this rarer version, and while I’m sure there are some who will be pissed at me for sharing this info, I’m all about getting information to people.  So if you find one of the copies with the “Mannana” cover priced like the regular CD, I’d snap it up.  As far as I know, there were no vinyl versions with the misspelled covers that made it into the wild.

I feel like HAM is a bit of an acquired taste.  Quite a few of my Icelando-musicphile friends freely admit to never having listened to them or not finding them particularly notable.  But then again, I don’t know that I’ve ever listened to a Sigur Rós album from start to finish, so who the hell am I to judge?  But if you like metal, you should definitely at the very least give Söngvar Um Helvíti Mannanna a listen.  It’ll definitely be in heavy rotation on my iPod.

(♠)  We are HAM!

(♣)  Sódóma Reykjavík is widely considered the best comedy to ever come out of Iceland. That being said, it’s also full of lots of local references and jokes that get lost on non-Icelanders… so let’s just say that through American eyes it was pretty weird.

(♥)  It bears mentioning that Óttarr Proppé is a member of Iceland’s national parliament, being elected either in spite of or in part because of his involvement with HAM and Dr. Spock, the former having put out a song named “Dauð Hóra” (“Dead Whore”) and the latter one called “SuckmycockSpockyoufuck”.